Juneteenth & the Importance of History

Students learn about Juneteenth, share family histories, and explore resources on the holiday and current efforts to erase aspects of American history and the role of Black people in it. 

Family taking a selfie

Teacher’s Note

Monday, June 19th is Juneteenth. Officially made a national holiday in 2021, the day is in acknowledgment of the emancipation of enslaved Africans in America.


In honor of Juneteenth, this lesson provides resources for celebrating, teaching, and learning about Black History. While this is important every day, it is of even greater importance as we witness the erasure of aspects of American History and the role of Black people within it. 

Pre-Circle Resources & Sharing

Introduce Juneteenth

If needed, share with students an introductory history of Juneteenth (additional resources can be found at the end of this lesson), and invite a share out of any reflections.

Introduce Curricular/Legislative Bans

Share with students some resources from BET, NPR, and Axios on proposed and current legislation limiting and/or banning what can be taught in schools, particularly regarding American and Black history, DEI, politics, sexual orientation and gender identity.

Go Round

Consider inviting students to share, in circle or popcorn-style:

  • What thoughts or reactions do you have to the materials we read?

If students seem interested, you may want to encourage further reading and discussion at a later point.

Circle Activity

Opening Ceremony

Open up a circle with a quote related to the importance and relevance of history. Invite students to share reflections and connections related to the quote. Some quote options might be:

  • “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots.”  – Marcus Garvey
  • “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” – Maya Angelou
  • “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” – Edmund Burke


Circle Rounds

Using a circle speaking order, invite students to consider the value of their own family/community history in response to one or more of the following prompts:

  • What aspects of your family’s/community’s history do you treasure?
  • Which of your family’s/community’s stories do you most want to share?
  • In an effort to preserve your family’s/community’s culture and history: Who can you share a special family story with today (i.e. a younger sibling, cousin, partner, friend, etc.)?
  • Share about a family/community tradition that you value/appreciate. 
  • Father’s Day and Juneteenth share the same weekend. In honor of this, share about a Black man in your life who has positively impacted you, and how.

Closing Ceremony

Share a closing quote with students, possibly one of the following:

  • “The lovers of romance can go elsewhere for satisfaction, but where can the lovers of truth turn if not to history?” – Katharine Anthony
  • “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
  • “History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are.” – David McCullough
  • “You can’t be a full participant in our democracy if you don’t know our history.” – David McCullough
  • “Study the past if you would define the future.” – Confucius
  • “There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know.” – Harry S. Truman

Extended Learning Activity

  • Invite students to consider the relationship between the 4th of July and Juneteenth by way of the excerpted or full Frederick Douglass speech, "What to the Slave is the 4th of July?"
  • Unused quotes from the closing ceremony can be used for further discussion, writing, or journaling prompts.
  • Engage students in exploring and discussing efforts to limit or ban discussions of history and identity in classrooms.

Additional Juneteenth Resources

PBS: Learn About and Celebrate Juneteenth

NMAACH - The Historical Legacy of Juneteenth

NY Times - So You Want to Know About Juneteenth

Complete Frederick Douglass Fourth of July Speech (reading)

James Earl Jones’ Reading of Frederick Douglass’ Speech (video)

NYC Juneteenth Events